March 12, 2018
Western drought intensifying
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock marketing specialist
Recent rains eliminated or greatly reduced drought in the eastern half of Oklahoma but conditions in the western half of the state continue to worsen. Nine counties of northwestern Oklahoma and the panhandle have gone 155 days or more with less than 0.25 inches of rain. According to the Oklahoma Mesonet, the last 120 days in the Oklahoma Panhandle have seen a total of 0.12 inches of rain, just four percent of normal, making it the driest for the data period back to 1921. Northwest Oklahoma is the epicenter of drought with D4 (exceptional) drought conditions emerging in Alfalfa, Harper, Woods and northern Woodward counties in the latest Drought Monitor. That area stands to grow rapidly without immediate moisture. The larger extreme drought (D3) region also includes the remainder of western Oklahoma; the Texas Panhandle; southcentral and southwestern Kansas; and westward across northern New Mexico to the Four Corners Region.
Most of the drought area is a relatively high-altitude, semi-arid region dominated by warm-season native and introduced forages. Major forage growth in the region is a month or more away with plenty of time for rain and normal spring growth. However, planning now for the prospect of delayed or reduced forage production is important. An early onset drought is particularly challenging for several reasons.
Feed management is usually the initial focus of developing drought. It is critical to evaluate standing forage and hay supplies now in order to plan for how best to utilize and stretch those resources as needed. Alternative feed needs should be carefully evaluated. Buying additional hay is often the first thought but trying to fully supplement cows with hay may be more expensive than needed. Supplemental energy and protein feeds may be an economical way to stretch limited forage supplies. Spring calving cows with newborn calves are facing the highest nutritional needs of the year. It is critical to pay attention to those needs and make sure adverse nutritional conditions doesn’t translate into delayed or reduced reproductive performance that simply pushes the costs of drought off until next year.
Animal inventory management may be required if drought conditions persist. Spring calving herds typically do not have many cull animals at this time of the year. Fall calving herds could certainly think about early weaning calves to reduce cow nutritional requirements; followed as needed by early culling of cows. For spring calving herds, looking ahead to early weaning may be the next best opportunity to reduce overall nutritional needs but that is two to four months away. The feasibility of holding and supplementing lactating cows until calves can be weaned should be carefully evaluated. Another possibility is selling some older cows with suckling calves as pairs to pare down feed requirements. Relocating cows out of the drought area but maintaining ownership may be an alternative as well. In all cases the goal is to preserve the core breeding herd as much as possible while minimizing the long term financial and production impacts.
I have been getting questions about the potential market impacts of the drought. Obviously, the drought area and severity are very dynamic conditions and may change considerably. I don’t believe that significant cattle liquidations are imminent at this point. Moreover, the recent improvement in drought conditions to the east significantly reduces the number of cattle potentially impacted in the remaining drought area. The western drought region has considerably lower stocking rates due to the semi-arid climate and thus fewer cattle stand to be impacted. While a huge challenge for affected operations, the potential for general market impacts is reduced should cattle liquidation eventually happen. Local market impacts however, could be much more severe. It’s not a crisis yet but thinking ahead is important. Hoping for the best while planning for the worst is a great strategy in this situation.
Schedule the breeding soundness exams soon
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist
Although the spring calving season may still be ongoing, the next breeding season is only a few weeks away. Now is the time to schedule the old and new bulls for their pre-breeding soundness examination.
For the breeding soundness evaluation to be successful, bulls should be evaluated 30 to 60 days before the start of breeding. It is important to allow sufficient time to replace questionable bulls. Bulls could also be evaluated at the end of breeding to determine if their fertility decreased. A breeding soundness exam is administered by a veterinarian and includes a physical examination (feet, legs, eyes, teeth, flesh cover, scrotal size and shape), an internal and external examination of the reproductive tract, and semen evaluation for sperm cell motility and normality.
The physical examination studies overall appearance. Flesh cover is one factor to evaluate. Body condition can be affected by length of the breeding season, grazing and supplemental feeding conditions, number of cows the bull is expected to service and distance required to travel during breeding. Ideally, bulls should have enough fat cover at the start of breeding so their ribs appear smooth across their sides. A body condition score 6 (where 1 = emaciated and 9 = very obese) is the target body condition prior to the breeding season.
Sound feet and legs are very important because if they are unsound, this can result in the inability to travel and mount for mating. The general health of the bull is critical since sick, aged and injured bulls are less likely to mate and usually have lower semen quality. The external examination of the reproductive tract includes evaluation of the testes, spermatic cords and epididymis. Scrotal circumference is an important measure since it is directly related to the total mass of sperm producing tissue, sperm cell normality and the onset of puberty in the bull. Bulls with large circumference will produce more sperm with higher normality and also reach sexual maturity sooner.
Examination of the external underline before and during semen collection will detect any inflammation, foreskin adhesions, warts, abscesses and penile deviations. The internal examination is conducted to detect any abnormalities in the internal reproductive organs. Also, be certain to ask your veterinarian about the need to test the bulls for the reproductive disease, trichomoniasis. earn more about this disease by downloading and reading OSU Fact Sheet VTMD-9134 “Bovine Trichomoniasis.”
The semen evaluation is done by examining a sample of the semen under a microscope. The veterinarian will estimate the percentage of sperm cells that are moving in a forward direction. This estimate is called “motility.” In addition, the sperm cells will be individually examined for proper shape or “morphology.” Less than 30 percent of the cells should be found to have an abnormal shape.
Any bull meeting all minimum standards for the physical exam, scrotal size and semen quality will be classed as a “satisfactory” potential breeder. Many bulls that fail any minimum standard will be given a rating of “classification deferred.” This rating indicates that the bull will need another test to confirm status. Mature bulls (that were listed as classification deferred) should be retested after four to six weeks. Mature bulls will be classified as unsatisfactory potential breeders if they fail subsequent tests. Young bulls that are just reaching puberty may be rated as “classification deferred” and then later meet all of the minimum standards. Therefore, caution should be exercised when making culling decisions based on just one breeding soundness exam.
Many producers work hard to manage their cows for high fertility. They may assume that the bulls will do their expected duties. However, it’s important to pay close attention to bulls to establish successful breeding.
Cow-Calf Corner is a newsletter from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Agency.